Turkmenistan bans use of word 'coronavirus,' threatens jail for anyone wearing a mask: watchdog group

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Don't even mention "coronavirus" by name in this former Soviet Republic, otherwise you could end up in the slammer.

The Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan has banned the media from using the word "coronavirus" and threatened harsh punishments for those caught talking about the global pandemic.

According to international media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, the gas-rich nation is treating COVID-19 like it does not exist.

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The France-based group said Tuesday that the autocratic ex-Soviet nation made sure the word also was removed from health information brochures distributed in schools, hospitals and workplaces.

Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov has reportedly banned the use of the word "coronavirus" in the former Soviet Republic.

Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov has reportedly banned the use of the word "coronavirus" in the former Soviet Republic. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

According to reports from Radio Azatlyk, authorities have also forbidden people to wear face masks under the threat of jail time.

“The Turkmen authorities have lived up to their reputation by adopting this extreme method for eradicating all information about the coronavirus,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

Plainclothes police officers reportedly listen to people's conversations in lines, at bus stops and on buses.

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Cavelier added that the denial of information "endangers the Turkmen citizens," while reinforcing the strongarm of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

Berdymukhamedov has ruled the country since 2006 and considers himself Turkmenistan’s “arkadaq,” or protector, according to the Associated Press.

In the 2018 Netflix series "Dark Tourist," filmmaker David Farrier noted that Berdymuhamedov's smiling image is everwhere there, from the airport, screens in arenas and even in shopping malls.

Before banning talk of COVID-19, Berdymukhamedov reportedly offered a book he wrote on herbal remedies that could be useful in combating the virus.

Ranked last in the group's 2019 World Press Freedom Index, Turkmenistan is one of the world’s most closed countries.

The Central Asian nation that neighbors Iran so far has reported no cases of coronavirus.

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As of Wednesday morning, there are at least 47,593 positive cases of COVID-19  in Iran. and at least 3,036 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.